The conversation at the last Religious Living Committee was quite interesting.
A brand new member had shared her dismay at having to pay for babysitting at High Holy Day Worship. She shared with the chairperson that her concern was that there was no extra charge for the Youth Group Service or for the Special Family Service. Why should there be a charge for babysitting?
This led to a discussion about whether there should be High Holy Day Tickets at all. Why not open High Holy Day worship to anyone who wants to join us, members and non-members?
Our rabbi, Steven Kushner, introduced this discussion. It is a point of view he has been raising for several years, but with not a whole lot of receptivity. I would like to think that the Religious Living Committee is a friendlier environment for this conversation than the synagogue’s Board of Trustees.
At Temple Ner Tamid, members receive tickets for the adults in the family up to age 26. Anyone can attend worship on Rosh Hashanah evening, family Services, Rosh Hashanah second day, Yizkor, and the afternoon and evening services on Yom Kippur. So it is more of an open door policy when it is known that seats are available. Additional tickets for family members are available at $200 per ticket.
A lot is happening here. Apparently, former members are somehow acquiring tickets from friends and neighbors. Or perhaps the ushers at the door are not really checking who has tickets.
Maybe it is a combination of these things happening, and other stuff we are not aware of.
One observation ties in with much that we all have been reading about dues. People don’t want to pay the full amount, whatever it is. Especially if they perceive a need to use the synagogue for just three days a year. There is still a connection to the synagogue, albeit for a very finite period of time. We find ourselves in a consumer-oriented world. And for many, synagogue membership is a commodity.
$2300 – or whatever amount dues are in any community – just doesn’t cut it for maybe 20 total hours of worship and contemplation.
There were some interesting comments made by those at this meeting. The board would be concerned with the streams of income from ticket sales, and perhaps babysitting ($18 per child per service).
Two other neighboring synagogues have an open door policy on the High Holy Days for non-members. Maybe we have to do this to remain competitive.
What will this do for attendance at the main service? Will there be enough seats? What will the members who are already paying full dues think? Especially if they come in to High Holy Day Worship and can’t find a seat.
For me, High Holy Worship is a gateway for engagement. We shouldn’t be looking at these three days as a freestanding component of the calendar.
Rather, how can we use these three days to give people a taste what it means to be a part of a Sacred Community?
How can we make the worship meaningful?
How can we create community?
Serving the paying customers, those who pay dues is important. But thinking about how to engage people from the first night of Rosh Hashanah to Selichot about twelve months later should really be our primary goal.
If we focus on that, and not on the streams of income from High Holy Day Worship, people won’t be so focused on thinking about the amount of dues they are paying, and whether it is worth it.